Accepted paper:

Tajik dam novels as sources for the political ecology of postwar Central Asia


Flora Roberts (Leiden University / University of Tubingen )

Paper abstract:

In my paper, I seek to reconstruct the normative interplay between individuals citizens, society and nature (the non-human natural world) as portrayed in Tajik discursive prose of the postwar period. Socialist realist novels depict an idealised, and highly normative, view of how interactions between individual citizens, Soviet society and the state were supposed to function. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed a large number of publications addressing - in a wide range of genres - the theme of rapid changes in the relationship between humankind and the natural world. Novels were written about most of the major infrastructure projects that reshaped the landscape and physical geography of the Union republics. In my paper, novels about dam and canal construction in Central Asia, in which the transformation of nature under socialism is a central theme, are used to shed light on how writers sanctioned by the Writers Union portrayed relations between individual citizens, the natural world, and the state. In particular, I am interested in how official Soviet writers portray tension and conflict between groups, and the means by which such conflicts are resolved - for although social tensions were relatively low in Central Asia between the 1950s and 1980s, they are reflected in the literature of the time. The literary treatment of social tensions over environmental changes was, of course, inherently political. Further, I use descriptive passages in fiction to explore what meanings or moral valences are attributed to human interactions with nature. Alongside novels and reportage, I will use the local press and letters to the editor to complement my analysis of discursive tools available to ordinary citizens wishing to share concerns about environmental changes, thus shedding light on the political ecology of late Soviet Tajikistan.

panel HIS-08
Political Ecology of Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia